Lately I have been eating an extraordinary, unprecedented amount of ginger. Why? Well, given that I am a believer in listening to your own body telling you what it wants to eat, and that lately I have been feeling coldy-fluey-toxic, and that ginger is a natural digestive aid, and cough remedy, and stimulant - could it be that the old Omni-temple has simply been craving comfort and respite from all that I have thrown at it recently?
Whether or not you believe in the medicinal qualities of ginger, its invigorating taste always seems to make me feel more chipper. It is a key ingredient in my DIY curry paste, along with other herbs and spices. I have also been doing a fast flash-stirfry with ginger, garlic, soy sauce and pepper. You can serve it with rice or lentils to make it more substantial, and it is also nice grilled with olive oil and dressed with mint or coriander and zesty, lemony yoghurt.
There is also the classic lemon, honey and ginger drink. It is like a magic salve on a red raw, sore throat - use it to wash down a couple of aspirin, and you have a less noxious, gentler version of Lemsip, I reckon. Which reminds me of a story...
A while back, an "associate" of mine, who has always claimed to be a supertaster (let's call him Bill), used to drink an LHG every morning from the same café. Every morning for months he glugged it back, until one morning the café revealed that they had mistakenly been using horseradish in place of ginger in the drink - that the lemon, honey and ginger was actually a lemon, honey and horseradish. (I pray he does not read this - I'm not sure he ever found out.)
I can sort of see how in the context of a sweet, lemony drink you might mistake horseradish for ginger, but frankly, wouldn't you expect a little more from a supertaster?
It is all very well and good, preaching the gospel of "fresh, local, produce... organic... artisanal... free-range... free-farmed... fair trade... seasonal" and so on. Everybody knows this is how we oughtta be shopping and eating, right?
But how far will you go to make sure that what you eat fulfils these criteria, ticks these boxes? Are they just ways to sell people more stuff that makes them feel better about what they consume, the way they consume? Does buying fair trade chocolate or coffee really make any difference to anybody's way of life other than those who can afford them, to feel better about buying more stuff?
And what about when there is an ideological conflict? Like, say, how it is extremely unlikely that that cheap Asian restaurant you "found" - you know, the one with the crappy linoleum and the weird ordering system, and the dear old grandma toiling away in the kitchen, and the huge $10 meals - is using free-range chicken, or prawns that have been caught in a way that is remotely eco-conscious. But then, you are supporting a local, independently owned business, not just giving more money to a foreign-owned multinational, right? Which ethical concern wins out? If a cafe or restaurant doesn't specifically state that chicken or pork is free-range - you can pretty much assume that it is not - are you going to just not go there?
Most of all, what is the etiquette if you are at someone's house and are served chicken or pork that you don't know to be free-range? Are you going to balk at non-organic milk? Is it hideously rude to refuse to eat something whose provenance you are unsure of?
I would say yes, it is. While I would also try to buy food that has been reared/grown in the best possible conditions (that I can afford - I do not, for instance, buy $30+ organic chickens), if you are at someone's place and you refuse food on the basis that it might not meet your rigid criteria for being fit for consumption, with the animal already dead, and having been cooked to eat - I think you are being a tosser. And wasteful. And furthermore - you are likely to miss out on some spectacular food experiences.
One of my more significant achievements of 2013, when I look back on it, is this; re-watching all six seasons of what I broadly consider to be the greatest TV series of them all - The Sopranos - by way of tribute to the passing of lead actor James Gandolfini, about whom Voyages in America wrote what I thought was an insightful piece earlier this year. In it, he raised the point that we were not necessarily lamenting the passing of Gandolfini, the man, at 51, but of Tony Soprano, a character so singular that it dwarfed all his other acting roles. He was Tony Soprano, as far as we were concerned.
Aside from the tremendous number of cold, dark winter nights it occupied as Plus One and I ploughed our way through the 86 episodes, there were a couple of things I noticed far more than on previous viewings (I have watched the whole thing through once before, and most episodes another time still) - first, just how funny a lot of it is, particularly the character Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri - so much comedy gold ("I can't stand touching my f***ing shoelaces. Ever go to tie your shoes and you notice the end of your laces are wet? Come on - why would they be wet?").
And second, just how much of the show involves eating, which readily explains one of the reasons I love it so much. Italian food seems to provide a magnificent backdrop to the whole series. I love the way phrases from the show have seeped into my everyday language ("gabbagool? Oover here!", "That was Karen's last ziti before she died...").
There is also the fact that, for better or for worse, I appear to have modelled myself on a cross between Tony Soprano, and David Brent.
And so, by way of tribute to the tribute I was already performing, we thought we would wrap up the end of series six with a meal befitting the Sopranos main man, together with our friends the JVHs, who have been doing similarly. I don my best Tony/Junior-styled short-sleeved shirt, made entirely of manmade fibres, and hope it doesn't get too warm (lest I start smelling a bit ... funky). Warning - contains spoilers (but seriously - why haven't you watched it yet?!).
Salad and I have not always got along. From time to time we have had our differences - mostly down to my preference for things that are meaty/cheesy/fried.
But, you know, with age comes some sort of wisdom, maybe. Some sort of acceptance. Over time we realise that salad never meant us any harm, or offence. Salad just wanted to play with the others, nicely. Also, from time to time, salad must accept that it just hasn't, actually, been very good to me.
Remember what salads used to always be? Shredded lettuce, grated carrot, grated cheese, "flower-cut" tomato and egg halves, canned crushed pineapple, a big old parsley sprig. And a big blob of reduced cream mayo. Actually, sometimes I get nostalgic for this particular old-time salad staple, and I make it (and then I don't fancy eating it again for a while).
But then, sometime, I had a revelation; salads didn't have to be just lettuce and tomato based. Salads could be, actually, anything. You could make an Asian salad, with coriander and mint. You could make a salad of roasted veges, with a tangy soy and sesame dressing. Hell, you could even make a salad out of meat!
And with the range of fruits and vegetables, as well as fresh herbs and nuts, seeds and cheeses - well, the sky was the limit. I have waxed lyrical in the past about the significance that the first two Yotam Ottolenghi cookbooks have had on the way I cook and eat. I reckon they were responsible for changing the way I thought about combining flavours and ingredients.
Well, as far as "epic fails" go, for me - this was the grand kahuna. This was the All Blacks at Cardiff in '07. This was... Team New Zealand capitulating in San Francisco (I'm sorry - too soon?). After eating a whole lot of fresh, steamed greens - bright, fresh, citrusy flavours, garlic, and ginger, and precious little meat or fat, and lots of swimming - all it takes is one quick summons from my consigliere, and all bets are off. Again. Where to begin...?
I had Wednesday all mapped out, you see - work, swim, then maybe a falafel from my favourite Petone takeaway, Kilim, in Jackson Street. And then I get a message from Lorenzo Bresolin, of Duke Carvell's, Scopa and Crazy Horse The Steakhouse renown/infamy, inquiring whether I had dinner plans, and if I would care to join them for a five-course dinner at Crazy Horse, with Te Mata wine matches...
Well, um - how could I refuse? And why would I? OK, so it may well undo some of my week's good deeds on the eating and exercise front, but, you know, there's always next week. And the week after that. And Te Mata make beautiful, bountiful wines. And Crazy Horse cook some of the best steak in town - and a whole lot more besides. Hell, their Kimchi Burger was even the best match with Garage Project beer for Burger Wellington 2013. It is my civic duty - I must answer the call, and pay no mind to the consequences. Perhaps I will forgo the chips (although - perhaps not).
So, anyway, we arrive and receive glasses of the Cape Crest 2012 Sauvignon Blanc. Now, normally, I am not crazy about Savs - it always seems a "default" wine - the lager of the wine world. But this is an exquisite drop - an almost creamy mouth-feel, alongside the familiar citrus and fresh notes.
We are then into the food-wine matches, and, to be honest, it's refreshing to be drinking wine rather than the slew of awesome craft beers I partook of over Wellington On A Plate. The first dish is of smoked eel with a celeriac and chive remoulade, paired with an Elsdon Chardonnay.
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